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How social media connects older adult patients


As older adults adopt social media physicians and caregivers can utilize this as a way to improve communication and connectedness with older adults reduce some of the loneliness and social isolation experienced by this population.

Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Lisa Price, MD, board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics and has expertise in managed care, electronic health records, quality improvement and geriatrics. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Medical Economics or UBM Medica.


Dr. Lisa PriceSocial networks are ubiquitous. Facebook, Twitter, Skype and others are available on our phones, tablets or computers. No matter the social network used, this mode of communication has dramatically changed how we interact and share with family and friends.


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Use of social media by young adults is wide spread: 90% in 2015 according to the Pew Research Center. What may be surprising, however, is that older adults are increasingly joining the ranks of daily social media users. “Today, 35% of all those 65 and older report using social media, compared with just 2% in 2005,” the 2015 Pew study reported.

As older adults adopt social media physicians and caregivers can utilize this as a way to improve communication and connectedness with older adults reduce some of the loneliness and social isolation experienced by this population.

Only the lonely

Forty-three percent (adults 60 years old and older with a mean age of 70) said they felt lonely sometimes, according to a 2012 University of California at San Francisco study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Next: Maintaining social connectedness is vital


Delving specifically into the issues facing these older adults, researchers found:

·       32% reported lacking companionship; and

·       25% reported feeling left out.

Participating in social networking may be one way to reach out to friends and family, and lessen those feelings and, perhaps, diminish the physical effects of loneliness.


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As adults enter into older adulthood, maintaining social connectedness may become more difficult.  Friends may have died, family dispersed across the country. 

There could also be physical challenges due to mobility limitations or chronic diseases that decrease connectedness with friends, family, and community. Social media could begin to play a more active role in keeping this population socially connected, according to research presented at the 2013 Proceedings of the 24th Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Hypertext and Social Media.

Socially acceptable

The journal Computers in Human Behavior in 2016 explored the ways seniors over 60 years use Facebook. Approximately 22% of respondents used the site to “stay connected with family.” Social bonding, chosen by older adults as the central reason to use Facebook, is important in helping to reduce the isolation many feel. Older adults in the study had an average of 88 friends and 17 family members on Facebook.

Next: Physicians can promote social media to older adult patients


Keeping social networks active also has beneficial physical and cognitive effects for older adults. A 2016 University of Arizona study of a very small group of adults 68-91 years old found 25% of the participants scored better on memory-related tasks after using Facebook than a similar group that used an online journaling program.


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Feelings of social connectedness, as well as social support are positively associated with the mental and physical health of individuals, according research presented at the 2010 International Conference on Information Systems Proceedings.

The increasing availability of social networking through the expansion of high-speed home Internet connections and the growing numbers of older adults going online creates the possibility to build social connectedness among family, friends and those 60 and older. Physicians can promote social media to older adult patients, their families and caregivers to close the loneliness gap.


Lisa Price, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at Denver-based InnovAge, a provider of health and wellness services for older adults in California, Colorado and New Mexico. Dr. Price was a private practice geriatrician for 11 years, and then attended on the Acute Care of the Elderly (ACE) service and taught Quality Improvement at the University of Colorado. Dr. Price is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, and has expertise in managed care, electronic health records and quality improvement. http://MyInnovAge.org and http://InnovAgeCares.com.

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